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Rush to MDs may ‘bankrupt’ health
AUSTRALIAN medical schools are rushing to switch from MBBS degrees to masters-level MDs in a cultural shift that will either “bankrupt the healthcare system” or bring Australian medical education on to the world stage, experts have said.
The University of Melbourne was the first to introduce an MD course last year and will be followed by the University of NSW in 2013, the University of WA in 2014 and the University of Queensland in 2015, while other schools around the country are reviewing their positions.
Flinders University’s Faculty of Health Sciences executive dean Professor Michael Kidd said he “would be surprised if most medical schools weren’t looking at the option”.
“Once Melbourne made the decision to do this, what we’re seeing is heightened expectations from people who want to train in medicine,” he said.
James Cook University dean of medicine Professor Richard Murray said the switch to MDs, which circumvented restrictions on fee-paying places for Australian undergraduate medical students, was likely to lead to an expansion of student numbers as universities tried to maximise income.
“The pressure will be on heavily indebted [fee-paying] students with a quarter-million-dollar student loan to pay off to join a metropolitan specialty and, ultimately, claim those repayments from the public purse,” he said.
“We would call the doubling of student numbers in the past decade a national policy emergency… This could bankrupt the healthcare system.”
The Australian Medical Students’ Association has previously warned the move toward MDs will not only cause confusion regarding doctors’ varying qualifications, but potentially disadvantage students attempting to enter universities that offer full fee-paying places.
At the University of Queensland, dean of medicine Professor David Wilkinson said there were no plans to offer fee-paying places in its MD degree and the government could negate the issue “with the stroke of a pen”, simply by expanding the current restrictions to include post-graduate degrees.
University of Western Sydney School of Medicine dean Professor Annemarie Hennessy said she was confident there would always be a market for the MBBS degree, which the university offered for the first time in 2007.
“The competition between universities will be on the quality of the training and the graduates, not on the name of the degree,” she said. But University of Notre Dame dean of medicine Professor Christine Bennett said despite the best intentions of universities, the introduction of MD degrees opened “a more market-driven” element of medical education, and called for further discussion and planning.